Skip to main content
Original Issue

On and off the fairways

The women's pro golf tour: compact, resilient and steadily progressing

The ladies' golf tour, a compact group of 24 as compared to the vast carnival of 160 performers that elbows its way boisterously around the men's circuit, has just struggled through the most snappish, ill-tempered winter to plague the South in 20 years. But despite the fractious elements and the need of a truly colorful performer to replace the late Babe Zaharias as a gate attraction, the Ladies PGA continues to flourish and attract more and more interest wherever it plays.

While the men sliced up a prize-money melon that approached $1 million last year, the ladies had to be content with only $154,000.

Off course, the more fortunate of the girls draw down retainers up to $3,000 a year from sporting goods houses, and the really big names like Patty Berg, Louise Suggs, Beverly Hanson and Marilynn Smith are worth salaries that approach $20,000 a year. But this is earned income in every sense of the word, requiring a rugged program of personal appearances and up to 100 clinics annually.

What makes it so rewarding to watch the women in competition, especially for the average golfer, is that their form is considerably more orthodox than that of the men. The ladies do not possess great strength of forearm or hand and therefore rely extensively on body swing and hip action to put distance into their shots. All their movements are geared to a slower tempo, making it easier for the duffer to analyze their style. Actually, a few long hitters, like Wiffi Smith, Mickey Wright and Betty Dodd, can average a good 235 yards off the tee, but most get out no farther than 215 yards with their drives and must rely chiefly on their putting and short games which are every bit as good as the men's.

The ladies' tour may still be looking for another Babe to beef up the galleries, but Marilynn Smith, LPGA president, is optimistic about the future: "The crowds have been good, we're looking for over $200,000 in prize money next year and the golf is getting better all the time," she says. "In my book, that's progress."

Billy Casper—golf's TV star of the year

Early this spring, when the All-Star Golf TV show went off the air until next fall, the indoor season's most dynamic performer proved to be Billy Casper, the relaxed and portly Californian. Of the 26 matches televised each Saturday afternoon before an average audience of 15 million, Casper won the final six (at $2,000 apiece—the loser takes home $1,000) plus $500 for an eagle for a total of $12,500. The fact that Casper fetched another $10,000 during the nationally televised Crosby, Masters and Las Vegas tournaments surely merits him an Emmy award of some kind. Lloyd Mangrum was next in All-Star Golf earnings with $7,500, Roberto De Vicenzo and Jackie Burke won $5,500 apiece, while Ed Furgol, Gene Littler and Stan Leonard each won $5,000. In all, the show's producers paid out $81,500 to some two dozen of the country's best golfers.

At the relatively tender golfing age of 26, Billy has a perpetually cheerful and unruffled temperament that gave him a decided advantage in these televised matches, which were filmed months before they appeared on the air. In some of the early rounds, with six cumbersome cameras to be relocated after each shot, it often took a staggering eight or nine hours to complete 18 holes, and seldom took less than five—quite a formidable mental hazard for the less phlegmatic pros. But Casper sailed right along, beating Tommy Bolt, Billy Maxwell, Jay Hebert, Bob Toski, Cary Middlecoff and Paul Harney. Next October 11 at 5 p.m., though the match has already been filmed in Florida, viewers will see whether or not Casper can keep his streak intact against three-time British Open Champion Peter Thomson.

Some golfers have complained that the waiting time during matches is intolerable, and some tournament sponsors are grieved that the shooting schedules have taken top names out of their events. But no doubt these difficulties will be overcome in time.